Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Crossroads of Time - Andre Norton


170 pages; 1956. Genre : Sci Fi (Young Adult).
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By having a premonition to help someone out, Blake Walker finds himself drawn into dimension-travel, and the tracking down of a rogue who's importing sophisticated weaponry into less-advanced dimensions for personal gain.
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Andre Norton (1912-2005) was one of the top Sci-Fi authors in the 50's/60's. While she didn't introduce the concept of time- and space-travel, she popularized it by using it as a repeated theme in her books. tCoT is one of her earlier stories, which she then developed into a 4-5 book series.
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What's To Like...
This is a perfect story for a young teen boy. There's a fair amount of fighting and killing; and no yucky romance. Parents will appreciate that there's no sex or drugs. The bad guy is a UE (Ultimate Evil), but at least he's resourceful and cunning. And our hero doesn't start out as a perfect defender-of-all-that's-good. Indeed, he's as much of a liability as an asset in this present UE-hunt.
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I like Norton's treatment of our timeline. All too often, Alternate History authors portray our particular time/space continuum as being the most advanced there is. We boldly go where no one has gone before, benevolently enlightening the rest of the Cosmos.
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No so here. Our dimension comes off as being quaintly naive, psionically primitive, and dangerously prone to violence. Just the sort of place a UE would want to take over. That's a refreshing viewpoint.
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What's Not To Like...
Not a lot. Norton doesn't spend a lot of time fleshing out most of the alternate worlds here, but I suppose that's to be expected in a 170-page book. And I swear, although every Norton book ever issued has at least two completely different bookcovers, none of them (including the one shown above) have anything to do with the story itself.
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What If...
Norton's general hypothesis here is that an alternate timeline spins off at every critical juncture in history. Thus you end up with thousands of parallel universes.
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The one that Norton does take some time to explore here is a world where Hitler wins the Battle of Britain. The remnants of the British army and government flee to Canada, and the main phase of World War 2 consists of Germany and Japan besieging North America from both coasts. The effort eventually fails, but at the cost of tremendous destruction and anarchy in the United States. tCoT is set in the present (well, mid-1950's), and while Blake and his associates try to catch the UE, a few plucky, local New Yorkers are trying to re-establish civilization.
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Overall Rating : Adults : C+; Young Adult : A-
In the end, the plot is just a bit too straightforward to keep an adult reader's interest. And it has to be asked just how the universe decides what constitutes an critical juncture, worthy of an alternate world spin-off. But for a kid into science fiction, this should be a fun story. And it is cool to read someone who blazed the path for present-day Alt-History writers.

6 comments:

Amanda said...

I had to look up the word "psionically."

And your comment on the bookcover reminds me of a couple MST3K movies I've seen, where the opening and ending credits had characters (and creatures) that had nothing to do with the plotline of the movie. Pod People and Cave Dwellers. Great movies (when done MST3K style).

terry said...

speaking of ending credits, who can forget the RUS (Rodent of Unusual Size) from one of the Top 10 movies of all time - The Princess Bride. who really does show up in the closing credits.

Jason Gignac said...

ACtually, I saw some really GREAT credits recently - the ones for WALL-E. Highly recommended. The first half has a fun Art History vibe, and the second represents all the major characters in the movie as circa-92 VGA bitmaps. It was great. Or maybe I just got all the in-jokes in that movie as an old mac geek, I dunno.

hamilcar barca said...

we were told there were some neat surprises in the closing credits of Batman The Dark Knight. so we sat through the very last name. 5-10 minutes easily. nary a witty entry at all. bummer. other than Jackie Chan movies, i HATE closing credits.

Amanda said...

Jason and I stayed to the end of one of the Pirates of the Carribbean movies because there was supposed to be something good at the end. It was just after the movie came out, and so the whole theatre was crowded. We were in the back row, and when the credits came on, everyone filed out except us and the couple sitting right next to us. How's that for irony - of the whole theatre, only two couples stayed to see the end, and they happened to be sitting next to each other. After 20 mins of credits, we saw the little end clip. It wasn't worth it.

hamilcar barca said...

i had forgotten about that one! we stayed for that too. she's on the beach and sees him come a-sailing home, or something like that. kewl, but you're right - hardly worth a 10-minute wait.